WW1 Villar Perosa SMG at the Range

This is lot 1042 in the Morphy Extraordinary Auction on October 22, 2019.

Courtesy of the Morphy Auction Company, I am out at the range today with a very rare Italian Villar Perosa machine gun from World War One. These are pretty unorthodox machine guns, as they were initially designed as aircraft armament and later repurposed as ground guns. The basic design is a pair of actions and barrel with a single rear trigger housing. The actions are (slightly) delayed blowback, feeding from 25-round magazines and firing at about 1500 rpm each. The grip has two separate thumb triggers, which fire the two barrels independently.

For an aircraft application, this allowed a very high volume of fire for a very short time; exactly what aerial combat called for. As an infantry gun, the design was much less practical. The bipod held the gun up, but did not have any firm stop that could be pushed into. Coupled with the lack of a buttstock, the gun was very difficult to keep on patter with anything but the shortest burst. The small aperture sight certainly doesn’t help things either.



    • “(…)ridiculously useless(…)”
      Wait… did you know something about Colonel Revelli: https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/Abiel_Revelli which I do not know and allowed this concluded that.
      Do you have any trace suggesting that he intentionally worked against Kingdom of Italy during Great War, as otherwise he would not deliver “(…)ridiculously useless(…)” weapon?

    • I have something to add. For one thing, and I do not know why some readers argue otherwise; VP “machine-gun” was originally purposed for air-combat, later used in ground role. Italians were desperate in ground war with Austria-Hungary which they initiated and would use anything they had at hand.

      Further, I am pretty sure Ian used 9mm Para, not weaker 9mm Glisenti ammo in it – hence that overwhelming force.

      • Readers dispute the myth that this gun was designed for aircraft because it is simply not true and there is no basis for it. It was fitted to only a handful of coastal aircraft. It was never “re-purposed” for a ground role – it was always an infantry weapon.

      • “(…)ridiculously useless(…)”
        Is harsh judgement and implying that its designer (Colonel Revelli):
        1) was imbecile
        2) was intentionally working against his country (wreckage)
        I do not find any traces suggesting either of above, although my knowledge is limited, thus I asked you to provide any information hinting that at least one of the options is true.

  1. The weapon was developed for the ground role. IT HAD NEVER BEEN INTENDED TO BE AN AIRCRAFT GUN. Less than four-hundred samples of more than 14.000 built saw limited use on aircrafts (at that time the Air Corp was a branch of the Army) waiting for the model to be in full scale production first than distributing it to the troops. It was supposed to be used with a shield, and with it it was plenty stable. https://modernfirearms.net/userfiles/images/smg/smg127/villar-perosa_1915_3.jpg That hole sight was literally the only hole in the shield.
    The weapon was designed to be a point weapon. Like a long range shotgun. Put it to surveil obligatory passages (alpine trails, openings in the barbed wire) and, when an enemy shows up, throw a short burst in his direction. With half a dozen 9mm Glisenti bullets in his body, he’ll think better.
    The MG-42 for example, with its 1200rpm ROF was designed with this job in mind. Not fire continuosly, but fire when you actually see the enemy.
    Given the charateristics of the two warfares, it was more suited the Villar Perosa to WWI (when you almost always had some obligatory passage to surveil) than the MG-42 to WWII.

    The weapon had been higly successful in the attack role too. So much that the Austrians copied it, double barrel, bipod and all. At the end of the conflict a total of 14.564 MGs had been produced (so, more than 29000 barrels, VS only about 5000 MP18), and 836 millions of 9mm Glisenti rounds for them.
    When the guy with the Villar Perosa, after having thrown a couple of offensive grenades into the enemy trench to stun the enemies, came over the edge with the SMG in his hands to clear it, he didn’t find the guy with the MP18 waiting for him. Because there was not any MP18, or anything similar. What he had in his hands was incredibly better for that role than anything the enemy had.
    After having adopted the Villar Perosa, the Italians took almos three years to develop the OVP18 and the MAB18 (that were nothing more than a single Villar Perosa barrel mounted on a Moschetto TS stock) not because the Villar Perosa was unsatisfactory, but because it was so satisfactory that none felt the urge to modify it.

    • I believe you completely but can you refer us to any sources? Histories, memoirs, print, on-line? You have made me quite curious. I have also seen reference to a portable version held in a tray at the operator’s waist, hung from a strap around the back of the neck, not unlike a beer vendor at the ballpark. Talk about “walking fire!” It would be interesting to compare the histories, doctrine, and eventual adaptation of doctrine to field use between this weapon and the also much-maligned and disrespected Chauchat. Looking forward to hearing what C&R says.

      For years there was not even a photograph of this item available in publications, and barely any sort of description, and now thanks to the Internet Age and the tireless efforts of Mr. M and the viewership here, I have seen it explained, disassembled, displayed in its issue crate, and now demonstrated with live ammunition. There are even arguments about how it was used and how much! Better too much information than not enough; thanks to all.

      I wonder how immersion in modern firearms habits makes us forget how useful some old weapons were at the time they were issued — to an infantryman with a sore shoulder smarting from his bolt-action rifle, waiting in a dugout with a VP and a team of loaders might seem like defensive heaven. If you were physically strong enough, carrying one of these on offense (no bayonet lugs!) might be quite a morale-booster, and possibly effective. Please tell us more.

    • I’m going to second this, the Villar Perosa was indeed never designed for aircraft and was in fact designed on commission for the Bersaglieri as an ultra-light machine gun for cyclist infantry.

      To elaborate further, the first conversion of the Villar Perosa into a single-barreled carbine came before the MP18 – Revelli worked with FIAT in 1916 to design the first practical submachine gun, which was built in prototype form only. By 1918 three other single-barreled, stocked conversions had been made – the Beretta, Cei-Rigotti, and Ansaldo submachine guns. The Beretta was the gun selected for adoption and it was issued to Arditi troops (apparently before the MP18). The OVP was NEVER made during World War I and did not come about until 1921.

      • Even so, this was a solution to a problem of something the Italians realized before other people did: airplanes and balloons can drop bricks and grenades on you just as enemy ground forces can drop artillery on you. And for fast-moving soldiers, there’s no time to set up a machine gun, so why not make a super-light super-fast gun that can saturate the area (whether it’s full of soldiers or balloons) and then be carried away on your bike before the other team can react?

        • “(…)Italians realized before other(…)balloons can drop(…)grenades on you(…)”
          I doubt it in. Note that in 1899 there was Declaration on the Launching of Projectiles and Explosives from Balloons
          in which:
          The Contracting Powers agree to prohibit, for a term of five years, the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons, or by other new methods of a similar nature.
          even it was only active during war between signatories
          The present Declaration is only binding on the Contracting Powers in case of war between two or more of them.
          it show that there was awareness of possibility of launching “projectiles and explosives” from “balloons” yet in 19th century and presume it was deemed distinct possibility, taking in account it was regulated by international law.
          Obviously above consideration are useless, if you are able to deliver evidence that
          “(…)Italians realized(…)” before 1899.

          • Oops. In any case, I thought Italy was the first to violate this by dropping grenades from airplanes before the Great War. The intended victims: spear-wielding natives somewhere in Africa. I hope this turns out to be wrong.

          • Libya, 1911.

            Danish-made Aasen grenade dropped from cockpit on oasis.

            Oh the irony of Nato’s air campaign in 2011 for the centennial.

          • “(…)Italy was the first to violate this by dropping grenades from airplanes before the Great War(…)”
            No. It was signed in 1899 and expired after 5 years. As Dave already noted they did it in 1911 – well after expiration date of this agreement.

  2. “(…)As an infantry gun, the design was much less practical. The bipod held the gun up, but did not have any firm stop that could be pushed into. Coupled with the lack of a buttstock, the gun was very difficult to keep on patter with anything but the shortest burst. The small aperture sight certainly doesn’t help things either.(…)”
    Yet, Austria-Hungary developed more-or-less similar weapons, after witnessing use of this one.
    Frommer Stop-based weapon:
    7,65 mm cartridge, two barrels, magazines sticking upwards, tri-pod
    Doppelpistole M.12 (Steyr-Hahn based):
    9 mm cartridge, two barrels, wooden stock.

  3. One logical place for this little buzzsaw would be in a tank. To explain;

    The tanks of the era were limited in interior space. Full-grown machine guns were generally mounted in sponsons (British “Female”). Some, like the Whippet, had as many as four rifle-caliber guns (Hotchkiss, in its case) mounted in a casemate on top; others, like the Renault FT17, had a single rifle-caliber gun in a small turret, or a single light cannon (37mm) in the same turret, but not both at the same time. All of the above had internal intrusion problems. There was also the problem of stowing a decent supply of rifle ammo internally to feed the gun(s).

    If you substitute the VP double-barrel for the rifle-caliber guns, most of the problems are solved. It protrudes into the fighting compartment about half as much as a Vickers or Hotchkiss, its ammunition is more compact, its rate of fire rather makes up for its lower individual-round muzzle energy, and at typical WW1 assault ranges (you’re going over the parapet and the guys in the trench are shooting at you) the 9mm round has enough killing power to get the job done, anyway. Especially allowing for its rate of fire, double that of most of the rifle-caliber guns of its time.

    Also, the magazines would be easier to handle inside a sponson, casemate or turret than a belt feed. Even if you went with something like the Trommelmagazine 08 for the Parabellum pistol.

    In the FT17, one of these could have been mounted as a coax gun with the 37mm, thus avoiding the “either/or” MG or cannon choice.

    Four of these in the casemate of a Whippet would have been much less of a PITA to operate, especially in a Dublin intersection situation.

    The VP was a highly useful gun that just was never used correctly. That’s not its fault, or the fault of its designers. It’s the fault of the ordnance officers who were supposed to understand these things, and didn’t.



    • “(…)In the FT17, one of these could have been mounted as a coax gun with the 37mm, thus avoiding the “either/or” MG or cannon choice.(…)”
      But was it deemed serious problem back at that time? Note that both mentioned weapons, were anti-infantry unlike some later tank, with main gun destined to be used against armored targets and coax MG for dealing with infantry.

      • I now imagine the issue: A larger cannon can bring bigger payload, but it is slow to load. A machine gun is easier to load and fire, but it has limited capabilities against enemies hiding in fortifications. I could be wrong.

      • The 37mm in the FT17 was mainly intended for use against machine gun nests, not infantry. As Edwin Tunis said, a high-explosive shell an inch and a half in diameter and weighing about one and nine-tenths pounds, about a third of it actual high explosive, is not a comfortable thing to have with you in your little machine gun nest. Ditto a bunker.

        The major reason for the VP in an FT17 turret would be the same as any other coax gun. First of al, persuading infantry with satchel charges and bright ideas about using them to stay away from you.

        Second, with one “side” loaded with tracer matched to the 37mm’s trajectory, it could be used as a “spotting rifle”. Hose the target until the tracers hit it, fire the 37mm, target dealt with.

        Note that this would make lobbing a 37mm HE round into a bunker via a firing slit or etc. considerably easier than it was in actuality.



  4. Was the VILLAR Perosa ever used within trench systems as a sort of counterscarp type machine gun? thinly occupied front line trench soldiers bail out and go through communication trenches to the secondary and tertiary lines where the counter-attack is being prepared… Bombing posts rain grenades into the former front lines and the attack being pressed above the trenches is less inviting a prospect due to mortars and machine gun fire… So attackers begin to go down communication trenches, where these little guns are waiting…?

    there is a corny scene in the U.S. WWII propaganda film “Gung Ho!” where three Japanese “surrender.” the poor, hapless, gullible U.S. G.I. goes forward to take their surrender, only to have one of the men fall forward revealing a machine gun strapped to his back… A Schwarzlose if I recall correctly! Meanwhile, the other two crew the gun and machine gun hapless, gullible G.I. Then the other Americans machine gun the Japanese trio.

    Why would I make mention of this? Well, it so happens I’ve seen brief black-and-white jerky footage of an Italian (Ardito?) falling forward, revealing one of these strapped to his back, and then the gunner and loader crew it. Mind you, there was no charade surrender involved, just a decidedly “outside the box” deployment of this weapon… No cigarette vendor’s cocktail waitress tray in sight… Just the gun, and people with magazines and so on…? Details?

  5. Such an almost weapon – ‘almost’ a good aircraft gun, Light ground machine gun and Sub machine gun. Was there no simple / easy fix to slow it down – even a little ?

    • It was not “almost”, It was simply the best SMG around, because there weren’t others. Hindsight doesn’t work in real life. Comparing it to wonderful ideas of SMGs that weren’t there is totally useless. If others were able to do better, they could have done. Since they didn’t, none was able.

  6. Dear Mr.McCollum,
    In your videos of both the
    BERETTA M937 7.35 SL rifle, and the Pavesi-SVT copy in 8x59RB Breda you mention a
    9 rd Magazine / stripper clip. The reason for 9 rounds in the 7.35 was that the issue of 6.5 cartridges for an infantryman was 162 cartridges, in 27 of 6-rd
    Chargers…thus the 7.35, also in 6 rd. Chargers, would still meet the tableof issue at 162 rds per man.
    With the Self loaders, the way tomeet 162 rd/manwas accomplished by factoring 162;since the magazine ( and
    Stripperclip) held 9 rounds
    That makes 162÷9==18 strippers per man.
    Packets for 7.35 would hold
    2 strippers (18 rds) same as similar 18 rd 3 × 6 rd.Chargers.
    The philosophy remainstge same forthe Pavesi designs.
    9 rd. Strippers for fixed mag, 2strippers per packet,
    Making 9 packets per ma

    Easy accounting for the Ammo supply officer. EVERY man gets 162 issue.
    Doc AV
    (Dr.Astrid M.Vallati)
    BRISBANE Australia.

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